In a short blurb? We talk books.

The Silent Heroes of Literature // Book Designers (Interior)

I am currently spending my Sunday listening to church service online while designing the interior of a book about Biblical times… Somehow feels fitting. I’ve found the perfect fonts for the half title page, title page, part openers, chapter numbers, chapter titles, and running heads… I’ve figured out how many lines per page I will likely need to fit the text within the desired page count the editors budgeted for. I’ve figured out what ratio I’d like the horizontal length to vertical length of my main text block to be. I’ve decided on the treatment of my initial... all before I decided on what base font I would use for the majority of the book. Ugh. I absolutely agree with what Richard Hendel said in On Book Design:

“Although some designers claim to be able to design a book in all its essentials before choosing a typeface, I cannot. The typeface I use influences so many other pats of the page that until I can settle on which to use, I am unable to carry on. It is the basis for everything else.”

But I had really wanted to break ground on this design and I had narrowed in down to Garmond Premier Pro or Jenson, so I felt OK to carry on. Yet here I am, ready to begin setting my font to solidify the page layout… and I still can’t decide.

That’s when I realized that I’m spending my Sunday morning listening to church service and deciding between Garamond and Jenson, which for the majority of people would seem a ridiculous dilemma, and which, even for myself, a newly dubbed Book Designer, seems kind of insane. Hendel follows that previous statement by noting (warning) us that:

“Choosing a typeface can be the most vexing, infuriating, time-consuming, and pleasurable part of designing a book. Unlimited choice is a false blessing. There are so many typefaces and so many ways to use them that freedom itself becomes a problem.”

Erg. You’re telling me. Garamond and Jenson. My dilemma? I love Jenson for how old fashioned it looks, and for it’s “e”s and “y”s (I am not even lying). And while I like the idea of its diamond-shaped punctuation marks, they honestly distract me when I’m reading… and if they distract me, they will likely distract another. And Hendel and Robert Bringhurst, and every other typographer I’ve come across, have drilled it into my head that:

“The real work of a book designer isn’t making things look nice, different, or pretty. It is finding out how to put one letter next to another so that an author’s words seem to lift off the page. Book design doesn’t delight in its own cleverness; it is done in the service of words” (Hendel) and “Typography with anything to say therefore aspires to a kind of statuesque transparency.” (Bringhurst) and “We know we’ve done our job right when the type treatment and layout are utterly invisible; when the design doesn’t stand out, and the words are internalized with ease, given the life that the author intended.” (Everyone else).

Thus, I’m tempted to use Garamond Premier Pro… which isn’t too different from Jenson, but is one of the most legible fonts out there. It gives up the bit of fanciness that Jenson has, to gain a bit of reading ease. I’m just being stubborn because I feel choosing a Garamond font reeks laziness; it’s such the easy, obvious choice… and like the noob designer I am, I just want this book to be special.

Now, I’ve been wanting to write a post about book design, and thought I be very technical… teach you all about x-heights and ascenders, ligatures and hair spaces, kerning and leading, lining numerals and old-style numerals, the golden rectangle and minimum margins, castoffs and book signatures… all complete with a mini history of typefaces and book layouts… But many of you may already know some of this, and many of you (my real fear) may be bored as hell. So instead, you just get this glimpse of Sunday morning as a book designer, and the little frustrations that force me to take a break, step back, and write a blog post. Speaking of blog posts, I just ran into this one by an India Amos, whose experiences, though writing five years ago and using Quark (ugh!), sound oddly like my own: “So, like, you pick the fonts?”  

Happy Reading!


P.S. Did you get the first picture? Huh? Huh? If so, I give you props… if not, I have one more wiki article for you.


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This entry was posted on November 6, 2011 by in Carin, Insiders and tagged , , , , , , , .

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Words We Like

“I think it makes more sense to write what you don’t know. To write what makes you uneasy, what you wonder about, what keeps you awake at night."

— Lois Lowry, at the BEA Children’s Book and Author Breakfast

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